SAVED! (part 3): Center-Set Theology

This post is the fourth in a series. To catch up, here’s the introduction, part 1, and part 2.

Last week I revealed my distaste for bounded-set theology, which specified a boundary of salvation to which people are in or out. The main issue, among several, is that the bounded-set model leads people to focus on the boundary rather than God. The alternative, center-set theology, removes that distraction. In this model, there is no perceived line or boundary. There is the possibility that such a boundary actually does exist with God; but since we are not God and thus unable to determine where this line is, it’s pointless to even try to identify it (which also means it’s pointless to tell someone they are going hell). But this leaves us with a flurry of questions, such as how do I know that I’m going to heaven? or what about what the Bible says about being saved?

X’S AND O’S

With the removal of a boundary there seems to be only one visible goal: God himself. Let’s take that same piece of paper that we drew on earlier and flip it over. Draw a cross in the center (representing God) with no boundary around it. Then draw random X’s throughout the page. Now let’s assume that those X’s are people, and that they are in constant motion. This makes sense, right? I mean our lives seem to always be heading in one particular direction or another, even if we don’t know sometimes what that direction is. This picture is a great way to look at it…

So here’s the question then: how does God determine who is saved? It’s not if they’ve cleared a certain benchmark (bounded set), but rather how they’ve journeyed. Have their lives been aimed at drawing closer to God? Have they “traveled” in the right direction? How close to God are they? I believe God then makes a determination based on their individual progress, and it may look differently from person to person. Jesus expresses this in a parable about vineyard workers (Matt. 20). There were workers who worked all day long and workers who were hired late in the afternoon, only working a couple of hours. Yet they all got “paid” the same. It makes sense that my progress (someone raised in the Christian faith) and someone else’s (maybe someone with a more adverse upbringing) may look differently.

IN PRACTICAL TERMS…

I believe Christianity happens to be the way to God (in fact in its early days, it was called The Way). The do’s and don’ts that Christians proclaim are not boundaries of God’s favor, rather guidelines on how to live on the path that leads to God. With the center-set model, I can never say that X, Y, and Z will get you into heaven. Rather, I can simply point the way to Jesus Christ and say that salvation comes in knowing God. Isn’t that what ministry is supposed to be about anyway? As a pastor, my goal is not to simply be a good person and help people. My goal is to chase after God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength…and invite people along in the chase with me. If there are those whose lives seem to be spiraling out of control into other directions, I help to gently remind them of the way. If there are those who are stuck in a ditch, I lend a hand to get back on the trail.

It seems to me that the bounded-set model is more about avoiding hell rather than embracing heaven. People may fear the center-set model because it appears too nebulous, but I find it to be just as concrete! For Christians, we understand what it means to “follow Jesus” in such a way that makes sense in our own context. We learn enough about God in Scripture, experience, tradition, and reason to have a clear enough image of the goal and direction in which we are heading. And indeed it is God, not some made up boundary line, that is our goal.

In the next entry, I’ll embark on questions about The Way and where God might make an eternal determination on people; even people who might have never heard the name Jesus in their lifetime.

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